Above, from left to right: Gardener Esme Webb carrying a trug of English holly; volunteer Nuala Outes putting berried holly branches into the arch over the postern gate entrance.
Visitors entering the Museum by the postern gate (the main entrance to The Cloisters) from now through the first week of January will pass under a great arch of holly, the plant most strongly associated with the medieval celebration of Christmastide. (For more on the medieval significance of this beautiful and beloved tree, see “The Holly and The Ivy,” December 18, 2008). The ceremonial placing of a beneficent plant above a doorway is an ancient practice common to many cultures and periods. (Four of the doorways in the Main Hall are adorned with arches of ivy, apples, hazelnuts, and rose hips; see “Decking the Halls: The Arches,” December 2, 2008.) The red-berried holly was given a masculine persona in the Middle Ages, in contrast to the black-fruited ivy, which was considered to be feminine. In botanical fact, holly is dioecious, and its male and female reproductive organs are borne on separate plants. There are female hollies and male hollies, but only the females bear berries.
Assistant Horticulturist Carly Still finishing off the base of the holly arch with a corbel of pine cones.
WISHING YOU PEACE, PLENTY, AND EVERY GOOD THING IN THE COMING YEAR.
—Deirdre Larkin and the staff of The Cloisters Gardens